ANY traditional hot rodder worth their salt has heard of The Race Of Gentleman beach races in America, or TROG as it’s commonly known. So when the large and highly dedicated Drag-Ens Hot Rod Club decided to hold a similar event for pre-’41 period-style hot rods, vintage race cars and pre-60s bikes here in Australia, builders quickly scrambled to piece together worthy sand racers.
This article was first published in the August 2019 issue of Street Machine
Now in its third year, the Rattletrap is held on the picturesque Crowdy Head beach in northern NSW, at the edge of a national park. Tides dictate the date and times of the one-day event, and for the first time, rain also played a part in 2019. Punters were increasingly concerned that the sky-water may well see the event cancelled, but thankfully the stoic, white overall-clad Drag-Ens pushed on.
From the outset, you could sense the strong community vibe amongst the punters, most of whom proudly sported period clobber. It all added to the event’s immersion in hot rodding’s heyday, when both hopped-up rods and drag racing were born from the unrelenting thirst for speed.
Out on the sand, 60 souped-up jalopies with a variety of gow jobs and 20 equally modified vintage bikes belted out grudge matches throughout the overcast and soggy afternoon. As each pair of sprinters rolled up to the markers, the flag girl nodded to each driver before offering an elaborate and energetic leaping starter wave. Rooster tails of wet sand then spat rearwards as skinny crossplies struggled for traction. Most enjoyed a squirrely ride as they attempted to steer straight while praying for a good gear change, quickly buttoning off before they hit the final marker about an eighth-mile down.
As racing continued, the untamed surface provided the antiquated suspensions with a decent bounce, giving pilots a full-body massage as they coaxed their steeds to the deep end of the return line.
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The rods competing were a diverse bunch, ranging from dedicated sand and mud racers through to neatly finished road-goers. Most owners had truly embraced era-correct offerings for their rides, selecting four-pots and sidevalve V8s, backed by crunch boxes and early Ford banjo third-members. Four-bangers in light set-ups did quite well, especially those under the guidance of savvy driver-mechanics who’d lowered the tyre pressure and perhaps launched in second for a bit of pep.
“The key is to have a light car on the sand,” Ed Radclyffe said of his and mate Joel’s ’banger-powered A-roadster. “We grudge-match – we all have our personal nemesis,” he laughed. “We clobber the other ’bangers and even some sidevalve V8s.”
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While entrants had earlier pitched in to move the tonnage of red seaweed covering the proposed track, the mess still found its way into grilles, suspension and motors, creating a bit of havoc for a few. “I had red seaweed all over the motor and it wouldn’t start,” said Ted Wrigg. “So I removed handfuls of the red stuff from under the Model T’s hood, sprayed the motor with WD-40 and it hasn’t missed a beat since.”
Yet the rain-soaked and sand-caked drivers and riders were still grinning from ear to ear, stifling shivers as they pulled up vintage goggles over war-era leather helmets to chat about their builds, amazing beach-sprinting feats and Mother Nature’s chosen conditions.
There sure was a lot to smile about; we were standing against the most stunning backdrop of sea and rainforest, and these blokes and blokettes had driven and trailered their rides from as far away as Victoria and Queensland to be part of Rattletrap 2019. Amongst the greying hair it was promising to see a decent lot of younger rodders in the mix, proving how pivotal these types of events are in passing the culture on to the next generation. Cheap chassis and drivelines can still be readily bought from rodders looking to add more powerful V8s and repro rails – another hark back to yesteryear when rodders were sourcing the junk piles for hop-up parts.
We drove from Adelaide purely to spectate, and we loved the Rattletrap, rain and all. So if you want a gander or you reckon that your traditional ride can take on the sand, keep an eye on the Drag-Ens website and Facebook page. Entries are limited and hand-picked to suit the criteria, so you’ll need to get in early to make the cut for next year’s event.
“So far I’ve won seven from seven,” Ted Wrigg grinned as he lined up for another shot at the sandy strip. His ’27 T features a set-back driving position for rearward weight and employs a flathead with twin Strombergs, ’39 Ford gearbox and ’40 rear
1. “The blower is from a Detroit V53 truck, converted to suit the flathead,” said Paul Contos of his period-correct ’35 Ford coupe, rolling on traditional wires and finished in Washington Blue. The swoopy Ford was a legitimate barn-find out of Chicago, and Paul piloted it up from Sydney to belt out a few passes at his first Rattletrap
2. Clare Dousset is no stranger to racing her li’l deuce roadster. I first met her while she was drag racing, so it was great to see her transition to the sand. “I raced the ’32 here last year too,” she said. “The car and track are all over the place, yet it feels quite fast. It’s very different to drag racing; this is just pure fun.” The roadster runs a V6 backed by a TH350 and 9in with low 2.7 gearing
3. “It’s a ’26 Ford speedster,” Mark Alcock explained of his open chassis sporting a pair of seats and ’26 driveline left over from another rod build. The ’banger runs a Roof 16-valve Model T head and a homemade twin-carb manifold
4. East Coast Race Cars owner Craig Lockhart’s ’36 three-window coupe sports all-’36 running gear with juice brakes and a 221ci sidevalve V8, and he’s lightened the load with an alloy louvred bootlid, sparse race-ready interior, a small Moon tank and a vintage rollcage. “The more powerful engines out here won’t hook up, so I can beat them across the sand,” he said
5. ‘Willy Willy’ is Brisbane’s Gavan Starr-Thomas’s 1941 Willys flathead-powered bellytank, created from a 1955 F-105 Thunderchief war bomber fuel tank. Gavan partnered with Chris Wells from BMV Engineering to build the tanker over six weeks, using ’41 Willys four-pot running gear and a ’45 Fighter tiller
6. Ben and Clarissa Love’s sweet custom ’60 Chev truck features a tasty tube grille, detailed panel-painted roof and similarly treated dash. A set of airbags provides the height reduction
7. “So far I’ve won seven from seven,” Ted Wrigg grinned as he lined up for another shot at the sandy strip. His ’27 T features a set-back driving position for rearward weight and employs a flathead with twin Strombergs, ’39 Ford gearbox and ’40 rear
8. First-time Rattletrap entrant Paul Falzon had a blast barrelling his sinister ’32 roadster down the sand. He popped off the fenders and swapped out the rims for the event. The 40s-spec rod features a 4in dropped axle, ’46 sidevalve V8 with Edmunds heads and twin-carb intake, a ’39 Ford gearbox, ’32 Ford diff and ’46 Ford brakes
9. Paul McMullin built this ’32 roadster for his son Alex, as evidenced by the vintage livery: “‘16’ is Alex’s guernsey number; ‘A’ for his name,” Paul explained. “‘Stretch’ is his nickname and ‘Edmonton AB’ is where he now lives in Canada. Alex raced it last year and is upset that he can’t be back to do it again this year”
10. Alex McDowell is a rare and lucky fella who’s raced at both TROG and the Rattletrap in his 1915 tourer-roadster. The Massachusetts-built jalopy was imported into Australia before this year’s event and runs a ’28 B four-banger driveline on a ’28 chassis